Timing is Everything: The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa’s Three-Hour Tour
While the release of the Blancpain Tech Gombessa is timed around the 70th anniversary of the maker’s storied Fifty Fathoms dive watch, there is still a whole lot to get excited about beyond the sheer heritage and history of this wrist instrument.
If you have happened to read some of my coverage here at Watchonista, it’s not terribly hard to figure out that I am a dyed-in-the-rubber-wetsuit dive watch fan. Dive watches comprise the lion share of my collection, and most days, you’ll find me wearing a watch that is appropriate for diving, even if I am miles and miles away from any water.
That said, and as full disclosure, I have always held the Fifty Fathoms dive watch from Blancpain in very high regard. And while it is as legit a diving tool as you can get, it still always manages to look a little more elevated and sophisticated than you expect.
In my book, it’s a perfect blend.
The Fifty Fathoms overall recently celebrated its 70th anniversary. And as a thoughtful addition to that celebration, Blancpain has introduced the impressive Tech Gombessa (which also commemorates the 10th anniversary of the partnership between Blancpain and the undersea Gombessa project).
In fact, Blancpain President and CEO Mark Hayek and Gombessa Expeditions Founder Laurent Ballesta collaborated quite closely on the new timepiece. More to the point, according to Blancpain’s press materials, the Tech Gombessa represents a new line in Blancpain’s dive watch collection.
To cut to the chase, the co-developed innovation here is, for the first time, a diving timepiece with a purpose-designed system for measuring up to three-hour immersion times.
The Magic Number
That might not sound like big deal to the uninitiated, but it is. Co-developed by the partners (Ballesta is a world-class diver and researcher, but Mr. Hayek is no slouch when it comes to diving) over the course of five years, the improvements to the movement and bezel reflected in the Tech Gombessa pull off this needed innovation.
How? Well, as I touched on above, unlike traditional diving bezels, this new timepiece carries a three-hour bezel scale. Plus, a special third hand on the dial slowly ticks off that specific interval in glowing white and green to keep it visually on your radar on a dive.
You can think of it as a tool for a specific maritime activity, like a regatta timer on a sailing watch, but the three-hour function is not only a world’s first (with a patent filed), it is also no accident.
Deeper and Longer
In the years since diver and then-Blancpain CEO Jean-Jacques Fiechter conceived of the original Fifty Fathoms, the driving force in undersea exploration has been about enabling functionality and safety for deeper and longer dives. With the extension of safe immersion times via technology, the Tech Gombessa is an acknowledgement that, when it comes to timing, today’s extreme divers have different needs from the general, leisure-diving populace.
Using the diving requirements of staffers of the Gombessa Expeditions as a starting point, the three-hour interval represents a common bottom time figure for long-exposure exploration as well as a common exit time from a saturation/decompression system. It’s a fool-proof visual aid for a very serious number, and the function has been integrated in the Fifty Fathoms’ self-winding 13P8 movement, which, by the way, offers a whopping five-day power reserve.
Of course, in every way, shape, and form, the new Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa stands out as a fully-capable, 30-bar rated dive watch (and a totally gorgeous one, to boot).
The 47mm Grade 23 titanium case, with a pro-quality helium release valve at 10 o’clock and screw-down crown with beefy protectors, shows off its “absolute black” dial against which the luminescent orange block appliques and cardinal Arabic numerals featuring a blue lume emission stand out beautifully.
The special three-hour third-hand rides sleekly from the center of the dial and not only carries its own color lume (as mentioned) but is thinner than the blade-style hour and minute hands to avoid any confusion. The addition of modern-type orange “Tech” badging at 6 o’clock is the most obvious hint that what you are wearing on your wrist is extra special.
But the design’s big moment comes with the unidirectional three-hour bezel mentioned above. That is gorgeously crafted with a black ceramic inlay, white markers, and layered with green lume. Moreover, with numbers for 30, 1:30, 2, and 2:30, the Tech Gombessa’s bezel leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that this isn’t your typical dive watch.
An integrated, tapered technical rubber strap attaches to central lugs inside the case middle, under the dial, for an even more unique look. And to up the ante on the sophistication side, expect an exhibition caseback that not only grants you a view of the rotor and 13P8 movement but which also provides a full view of the helium escape crown and the intriguing mid-case lug attachment assemblies.
Pricing & Availability
Available as you read this, the new Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act 2: Tech Gombessa lists for $28,000. For more information, visit Blancpain’s website.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)